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More Than a Number on the Scale
by Audrey Hanes, photography by Kayla Broadway

For more than eight years, licensed certified social worker Keena Reddin has been tackling an issue that is prevalent in both today’s culture and in Jonesboro. Her desire to treat eating disorders and other behavioral health issues is something she is passionate about, as is helping her patients at the Center for Eating Disorders and Behavioral Wellness realize they are more than just a number on the scale.

After earning her undergraduate degree in psychology from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, Reddin moved to Jonesboro to earn her graduate degree in social work from Arkansas State University. At the time, she was the first student to be accepted into A-State’s MSW (masters in social work) program, which she completed in 2012.

“When I was doing my graduate work, we all have to do internships; I was placed, thankfully, with Dr. Christina Shaw, who had just moved to Jonesboro because St. Bernards had hired her to start an eating disorder program,” said Reddin. “She started in January of 2011, and I was her intern. She and I worked together, and then she moved in March 2017.

“When I started working with her, I didn’t really know anything about eating disorders; I didn’t have a lot of knowledge on it at all. With eating disorders, there is a lot to it. There’s not only the food piece, but in addition to the therapy, there’s a big medical piece, as well. It’s very, very complex, and ideally, it takes a team to treat.”

After working with patients with eating disorders for several years, Reddin knew she had found her calling. She opened her own practice on Main Street in Downtown Jonesboro in June 2018.

“We treat eating disorders like an addiction, but the treatment is much more extensive because we have to have food to live,” said Reddin. “When a person doesn’t nourish their body like they’re supposed to, things start going wrong. When I get a patient in here who is undernourished, I order blood work, an EKG and a bone density scan to see if they need to be hospitalized. I only do outpatient services, so if I get a patient who warrants a higher level of care, that will be my recommendation, and I help them get placed.”

Reddin says many of her patients have been with her for several years, because relapse for eating disorders is extremely high.

“With eating disorder treatment, we always say, ‘It’s not about the food,’ and it isn’t,” said Reddin. “That just happens to be that person’s drug of choice at that time. When I meet with a patient initially, we talk about food for the first one or two sessions, but after that, maybe only five minutes a session. It’s really not about the food. They want to numb out everything going on in their mind, whether it’s anxiety or something else.

“… I teach the patient very specific skills to use to handle their anxiety, relationships, communication and everyday way of life. Once they learn to use these skills to handle everything going on in their head, ideally they won’t have to engage in their eating disorder.”

Reddin treats all types of eating disorders, as well as other behavioral health issues for individuals, couples and families struggling with depression, anxiety, trauma, relationship conflict and challenging life experiences. She says that she is the only licensed therapist in the area who specializes in the treatment of eating disorders, which is important, because seeing someone who doesn’t completely understand and have experience with eating disorders can actually cause a patient more harm than good.

“You don’t have to go far away to get the proper treatment,” she said. “There are just so many misconceptions about eating disorders. I want to educate people and give them that knowledge. You don’t just tell an anorexic to eat; it doesn’t work like that. A lot of people are ashamed of their eating disorder, and they won’t go for help. I get a lot of people who don’t want to be here. I want to get rid of that stigma and the shame that goes along with eating disorders so people can get the help that they need.”

The practice is growing quickly; Reddin sees many of her former patients from St. Bernards at The Center for Eating Disorders and Behavioral Wellness, as well as many new patients that have happened by her downtown location or heard about her practice by word of mouth. A referral is not necessary to make an appointment.

“The community support and outreach has been phenomenal,” said Reddin. “Being on Main Street, people walk by and see my clinic name on the door and walk in or call about services.

“Ideally, what I’d like to do is reach out to high schools and colleges to educate both girls and boys about what an eating disorder is and what it looks like and let them know there’s treatment.”

She says that eating disorders are prominent in Northeast Arkansas and they are difficult to catch, so it’s important to look for signs like someone not completing meals, pushing food around their plate, going to the bathroom right after meal time, making excuses as to why they can’t eat, sudden weight loss or weight gain, etc.

“A lot of people might not catch an eating disorder sitting right in front of them,” said Reddin. “It’s important to know what to look for so you can encourage them to get help.”

The Center for Eating Disorders and Behavioral Wellness is located at 225 S. Main St., suite 102. For more information, call (870) 530-6104 or visit cedbw.com.